A few months ago, there was a minor controversy in the Internet wrestling circles surrounding Velvet Sky making a somewhat critical comment on her Twitter in regards to women blading in their wrestling matches.
This was in response to PWG's Candice LeRae and AIW's (and current ROH valet) Veda Scott both dramatically blading in their respective matches the day before. Both women were in long, drawn out angles -- LeRae and her partner Joey Ryan were feuding with The Young Bucks for the PWG tag titles and Scott in a feud with Gregory Irons. LeRae and Ryan's match served as a turning point in their feud against The Bucks; Scott's match was a main event of the AIW Battle of the Sexes event and the conclusion of her feud with Irons.
While it might be an extreme example, it goes to show that women in professional wrestling can be exceptional storytellers when given the opportunity to do so. They can put in the best match of the night, be credible performers against men, and can actually have meaningful drawing power with an audience that is overwhelmingly male.
Professional wrestling is indeed a performance art; a mix of athleticism and theater. Women, no matter their background before they enter the squared circle, will more often times than not express a desire to show the world what they can do and ultimately, show the world that women's wrestling can have a quality and aura that can match or even exceed men's wrestling.
But in the world of the WWE, especially with the main roster and NXT, a lot of the women there do not have the same opportunities there that say LeRae and Scott have to be exceptional storytellers. In fact, they aren't even afforded the opportunities that women in TNA and Lucha Underground currently enjoy.
NXT may boast longer matches for Divas on the specials, however, NXT Divas matches are not overwhelmingly any longer than they are on main WWE programming. The standout difference is how NXT Divas are allowed to perform in the time given.
Quite frankly, for the Divas on the main WWE roster, the restrictive opportunities are a damn shame. Natalya, Paige, and Emma are all incredible performers; the Bellas have shown remarkable improvement during their second stint in the WWE; Summer Rae, Layla El, and Naomi are all wonderful athletes; Alicia Fox has shown she can play up a role very well; and then of course there's the currently injured AJ Lee, who is quite frankly the best Diva that the WWE has had since Lita retired in 2006.
Those women each possess very pointed strengths, however, the frustration lies when we can only see what they're potentially able to do instead of what they actually truly are able to do.
These women have only really been able to show their performance artistry in just bits and hiccups. Natalya put on a clinic with Charlotte a while back in NXT, but hasn't done anything close to that on the main roster. Paige and Emma are presented as half of the performers that they were in NXT, much less the indies. Lee, before she got injured, may have had an infamous "pipe bomb promo", but she has not been at the center of a meaningful angle...ever. Layla has shown great athleticism...in the three times she was allowed to.
For a company that tries to exhibit social responsibility, especially this past week when Stephanie McMahon Levesque gave a shoutout to Patricia Arquette on her Oscars speech demanding equal rights for women, the reduction of Diva performances to being presented as nothing more than a Title IX excuse of "sports entertainment" is appalling, not to mention absolutely hypocritical.
However, what fans have to realize that #GiveDivasAChance is a lot easier said than done.
As I noted many times, the WWE television product is for the most part weak. From protagonist/antagonist mismatches to a lack of compelling, careful flow in a week to week angle, the WWE has a long way to go before it can be said that they put together great television week in and week out to the degree it would actually be beneficial to Divas. Great action is good, but substance and nuance is key.
Angles in regards to Divas require a lot because of how creatively fragile most Diva-related angles are. In other words for Divas to be really given the chance that they deserve to really show how amazing of performance artists that they really are, the WWE has to show that they are able to write great television.
Great television, as I said before, requires matching storyline progression with the ability for the performer to be able to carry it out. Summer Rae and Layla were convincing as Fandago's valets because they both talented dancers. AJ Lee was able to pull off her "crazy female" gimmick because she is incredible at acting. Yet, the Bellas were not able to capitalize on their feud because not only the story wasn't well written, the Bellas acting abilities were not at the level that the angle needed them to be.
Yet beyond great television, there has to be a total paradigm shift in the WWE, especially when it comes to Divas.
The WWE brass, McMahon, both Levesques, and Kevin Dunn included, have to start taking Divas seriously as performance artists at the same level as they do for their male counterparts. You think they would, considering that they have Sara Amato (better known as Sara Del Rey), probably the best American female wrestler of the past decade, training Divas down in Florida. Yet, Diva performances remain treated as merely just side exhibitions; just a "we-offer-that-too" sort of thing that leaves their abilities and their potential wasted.
However, it is a business mindset amongst the brass that women's wrestling is not worth the earnest time and the earnest investment in regards to making it a seriously meaningful part of WWE programming. Divas need to be given time and space to perform, as well as build a relationship with the live audience and the audience at home. However, #GiveDivasAChance not only requires a change in process, but a complete change in the WWE's current business philosophy.
It is my hope that Candice LeRae, who is honestly my favorite professional wrestler, period, never ends up in the WWE. Her storytelling ability would be bastardized, her charisma gone to utter waste, and fans be collectively groaning how much restraint is on display in comparison to her work in PWG and other independent promotions. The world deserves to see the best of Candice LeRae, and a WWE presence would never allow for that to happen.
Same thing can be said of the Divas. We're not seeing the best of them. The WWE philosophy says that fans do not need to see the best of what the Divas have to offer.
And that's why this movement, this backlash, is going to be a lot of work.